The federal government issued pandemic-related regulatory guidance that allows offsite audits to determine carriers safety ratings — Satisfactory, Conditional or Unsatisfactory. Previously, regulations required FMCSA to conduct an onsite compliance review to issue an Unsatisfactory rating. That change has allowed the agency to conduct comprehensive safety reviews of fleets remotely instead of in-person, leading to the spike in offsite audits.
According to data from its Motor Carrier Management Information System, the agency and its state enforcement partners conducted 3,582 offsite compliance reviews through the end of July — nearly three times the number of offsite safety audits conducted in the full 2019 calendar year, 1,374. That 3,582 is more than half of the 6,942 total reviews conducted this year through July 31.
If that trend holds this year, FMCSA and state enforcers will have conducted nearly 6,175 remote offsite inspections by year-end — more than five times as many as last year‚ and more than half of the on-pace-for 12,000 compliance reviews. Last year, just 10% of total compliance reviews conducted by FMCSA and state partners were offsite.
It’s unclear what percentage of this year’s offsite audits have been comprehensive. But the consensus is clear: The agency is leaning on offsite reviews to conduct comprehensive audits in place of onsite reviews.
Because of the expansion in scope of offsite audits, investigators are asking carriers to produce more records and documents than they typically would for an offsite review. Likewise, FMCSA is including reviews of equipment maintenance, which typically is reserved exclusively for onsite reviews. That includes documents like maintenance records and driver vehicle inspection reports, among other equipment-related documentation.
Those records often must be turned in within a week. Investigators, either from FMCSA or a state DOT, will send an email to carriers notifying them of the pending investigation and requiring them to upload information such as accident records, driver lists, equipment lists, MC-90 forms and other records. They’re then often required to fill out a questionnaire with basic details such as revenue and mileage data, insurance information, addresses and other operational information.
After carriers upload the required information, the investigator will reach out via phone to complete the process. In the case of a safety rating of Conditional or Unsatisfactory being issued, carriers then have the usual 60 days (or 45, in the case of hazmat haulers) to file a corrective action plan or an appeal with FMCSA.
Like most other compliance reviews over the past decade, FMCSA uses carriers’ percentile rankings within the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program to target fleets for safety audits.